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Research Report

Managing Proliferation Issues with Iran

C. Richard Nelson
David H. Saltiel
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2002
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 46
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. v-vi)
    Christopher J. Makins

    Of the so-called rogue states believed to be pursuing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and advanced missile programs, Iran poses unique dilemmas for policy-makers. Iran has serious and legitimate concerns with neighbors like Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, Iranian calls for the destruction of Israel and reports of efforts to acquire long-range delivery capabilities for WMD suggest motivations beyond homeland defense.

    In response to these apparent Iranian aspirations and to Iran’s support for violent opposition to the Middle East peace negotiations, the United States has relied on a policy of isolation and sanctions – a policy an Atlantic...

  2. (pp. 1-10)

    The context of relations between the United States and Iran changed significantly with the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States. From the U.S. perspective, Iran and other countries will now be judged mainly by the extent to which they are either “with us or against us” in combating the perpetrators of the attacks. Russia, Sudan and other countries seized the opportunity to try to transform strained relations with the United States. However Iran faced this challenge at a time when the leadership is divided on important issues, including political reform and relations with the United States. As a...

  3. (pp. 10-10)

    Iran’s WMD and missile efforts are at different stages and pose different concerns. Based on open source information, we believe some programs are in the preliminary stages and provide an option to develop an operational capability as well as the ability to export weapons and production technology. We judge that Iran is most advanced in chemical weapons, with a capability to use these weapons in war and also to export them. Nuclear weapons programs are probably still in the options stage, while biological weapons are somewhere in between.

    Nevertheless, Iran claims to be in full compliance with its treaty obligations....

  4. (pp. 10-14)

    In addition to the stated goal of greater power production capacity, the Iranian motivation to pursue a nuclear infrastructure was probably also driven by the discovery, following the end of Operation Desert Storm, of how far Saddam Hussein had progressed in developing an operational nuclear weapon. Iran has every reason to believe it would be the target for such a weapon. Under those circumstances, Iran may have concluded that it had to be prepared to counter a renewed Iraqi nuclear program. That would require, at a minimum, a nuclear infrastructure sufficient to permit Iran to keep pace with Iraq in...

  5. (pp. 14-15)

    Iran’s chemical weapons (CW) program is the most advanced of its WMD efforts. According to a recent unclassified report to Congress by the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), Iran has manufactured and stockpiled several thousand tons of chemical weapons, including blister, blood, and choking agents, and the bombs and artillery shells for delivering them.

    Iran has first-hand experience with chemical weapons in war. After being exposed to Iraqi CW attacks, Iranian officials publicly touted that they had also developed a significant CW capability, but they deny ever using it. Regardless of the extent of their experience in employing CW, they...

  6. (pp. 15-17)

    Iran has one of the largest missile inventories in the region, consisting mainly of Russian-designed Scud rockets produced by plants of North Korean design. These provide Iran with a less expensive and more viable alternative to long-range strike aircraft. Moreover, the dramatic psychological impact of Iraqi missile attacks during the war convinced Iranian leaders of the value of such weapons. Table 1 highlights Iran’s major missile inventory.

    There are two concerns with Iran’s missile programs: potential development of longer-range missiles that could threaten the region, Europe and eventually the United States; and the prospects that Iran may become a secondary...

  7. (pp. 17-18)

    The anthrax attacks in the United States raised the profile of biological and toxin weapons. Their psychological impact is substantial, though they are admittedly difficult to employ and may have relatively uncertain effects. Furthermore, they are quite low in cost and difficult to detect in production, which may be hidden in medical, pharmaceutical and research facilities. Also, foreign assistance and participation in biological weapons (BW) development can be difficult to identify and more difficult to prevent, given the dual-use character of many of the materials.

    However, developing an operational BW capability requires surmounting several problems. Most agents are not readily...

  8. (pp. 18-22)

    After more than twenty years without relations, many in the United States have difficulty understanding Iran and how its leaders think about WMD. Closer U.S.-Iranian relations could improve our understanding of Iranian thinking through dialogue and even help shape it to some extent. In the meantime, we can analyze what are likely to be the main considerations influencing Tehran’s decisions and hypothesize how the Iranians weigh the issues of costs, risks, and benefits in reaching WMD and missile decisions. The calculus is likely to be different in important ways for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, because each carries quite different...

  9. (pp. 23-24)

    Although this report is based on the assumption that improved U.S.-Iranian relations are essential to any real progress toward dealing with the problem of Iranian WMD and missile programs, it is uncertain that the two states’ mutual interests in ending Taliban rule in Afghanistan will result in a fundamental change in the adversarial, stalemated relationship or that other obstacles can be overcome. One obstacle in the way of better relations remains the differences of policy toward the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The United States may well take additional steps against Iran because of Iran’s support of violent Palestinian...

  10. (pp. 24-26)

    The foregoing analysis suggests some principles and recommendations for consideration in developing a U.S. engagement-nonproliferation strategy.

    The overall concept for this strategy should be a long-term regional security dialogue in which the United States uses as many channels as possible to persuade Iranian leaders that the costs and risks of pursuing WMD and long-range missiles outweigh the benefits. As relations improve, increased direct access to Iranians will provide opportunities to engage in dialogues on the benefits of closer cooperation and the risks of not abiding by their treaty commitments. Also, the more the United States is directly engaged with Iran,...